In the Night Kitchen – Maurice Sendak

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel:  0 points
Variety of characters: 0 point
Good story: 2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

In this house we read banned books. 😉 This book is famously banned because of a penis. Funny, my kid didn’t even comment on it. He commented on being able to “see his bum!” but the penis? No comment.

Mickey falls out of his bed into a dream world where he gets a cake batter onesie and a plane made of bread dough. The buildings are made out of cartons and bottles in a pantry. Mickey helps the “night bakers” make their cake, and then goes back to bed just in time to wake up.

It’s pretty standard dream-scape fare, really. No Bechdel, no diversity, just a kid and a dream.

The naked thing is totally oversold, honestly. I think if anything the book is great because it makes so little deal out of it. It says he “fell out of his clothes” but it is a very good example of a story where nudity is not a big deal – where bodies are bodies and it’s absolutely not a weird or dodgy or sexual thing. Small kids often run around naked or half-naked with no shame – shame is learned over time – and I feel like that is the kind of nudity going on here.

Of course, the book has been banned all over the place because of the visible penis. (Naked babies are actually remarkably common in children’s picture books – there are plenty of bums around. But showing  anatomically correct humans is enough to get the banhammerers up in arms.)

Look, my attitude is this. Bodies are sacred and private, but they are not and should not be shameful. There is a distinction there, and if we’re going to teach our kids healthy attitudes about bodies, we need to understand that distinction. I think reading a book like this with your kids is a good start. Yeah he’s naked. It’s his dream. Big deal.

It’s telling that C hardly even noticed. He was far more interested in the fact that the plane was made of bread dough and the buildings of bottles. And that says it all really.

Good stuff. Yay Sendak. 😉

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